You Snooze, You Lose? Why Sleep Matters!

Dec 8, 2022
Roger Sutherland

In this blog by guest author Roger Sutherland – Shift Work Health & Well Being Coach, learn why sleep matters for achieving your best bikini body, building world leading glutes, or your most jacked physique!

You’ve bought arguably the best and most educational guidebooks on the market and are doing the absolute best muscle building exercises out there, under the best guidance, but how is your sleep?

Your fat loss diet is set, you think you should be ok on it but you are still craving highly palatable carbohydrates and fats and can’t stop snacking.   

Can this be linked to poor sleep?

Lacking motivation to train or always tired or sick?  Is this also sleep?

If you want to optimise your health, build muscle or lose weight then getting a good night’s sleep is without doubt the most important thing you can do.

Scientists and performance coaches have now learned that focusing on sleep for athletes greatly assists in optimising performance, recovery, muscle building and fat loss strategies.

Forget all the supplements, focusing on sleep must be your priority.

A good night’s sleep sits amongst regular exercise and a nutritious diet for health, muscle building, performance and fat loss.

As a direct opposite, research clearly shows that poor sleep has immediate negative effects on your hormones, exercise performance as well as your brain function.

There are many reasons for this so let’s go through why we sleep, what happens when we sleep and some strategies to optimise your sleep to maximise your results.

Why do we sleep?

There is still so much unknown about what the actual purpose of sleep is.  However, what we do know is that there are key biological reasons for why we need to get quality sleep.

We know that sleep benefits our body in several critical ways:

When we sleep our body cycles through four main stages of sleep which continuously cycles until we wake up. These cycles vary in time from 70 to 120 minutes and repeat approximately 4 or 5 times each 7-to-9-hour night of sleep.

When we sleep we cycle between non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Optimal sleep sees us cycle through 3 phases of non-REM and 1 phase of REM sleep.

Stage 1 – Non-REM sleep (Under 7 minutes):

  • When we first enter sleep.  Brain waves, heart rate and eye movements slow down.

Stage 2 – Non-REM sleep (Light Sleep):

  • Body temperature decreases, eye movements stop, heart rate and muscles relax. 
  • Brain waves spike and then really slow down.
  • This is where we spend most of our sleep time.

Stage 3 – Non-REM sleep (Deep Sleep):

  • This is the stage of sleep we need to strive to get as much as we can.
  • Eyes and Muscles don’t move.
  • This is the stage where our body really gets down to business.
  • Our body repairs cells, tissues and builds muscle.

Stage 4 – REM sleep:

  • Usually occurs approximately 90 minutes from onset of sleep.
  • Our eyes move rapidly from side to side, breathing and heart rate increase and we usually dream.
  • This is our brain sorting and processing information and is important for our learning and memory.
  • It’s literally shuffling information around.

What are the benefits of good sleep?

Weight Maintenance

Sleep assists to control our weight by balancing our hunger hormones:

  • Ghrelin – increases appetite.
  • Leptin – increases the feeling of fullness after eating.

When we sleep, ghrelin decreases. Poor or insufficient sleep elevates ghrelin and suppresses leptin. This creates hunger and may increase the risk of you eating more and gaining weight.

Poor sleep is associated with the increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, muscle loss and metabolic syndrome. People who sleep less, eat more, and generally more highly palatable carbohydrates and fats. Prioritising sleep is crucial to support your fat loss or muscle building goals.

Insulin Function

Insulin is the hormone that assists in transporting glucose (sugar) into the cells to be used as energy. Insulin resistance is when your cells are not allowing the glucose into the cell. This leads to high glucose in the blood stream, a gain in body fat and eventually to type 2 diabetes. Sleep protects against this!

Sleep improves insulin sensitivity by keeping the cells healthy and ready to take in glucose.

Cell restoration

Our body needs to sleep to restore itself. Sleep allows our body to repair and regrow. In particular muscle repair, protein synthesis, tissue growth. If you are looking to build muscle, sleep is essential for that process.

Immune Function

We can’t train, work or function properly while sick. A strong immune system is properly supported by quality sleep. During sleep our body produces antibodies and immune cells and creates cytokines, which are proteins crucial to the fight in infection and inflammation. Sleep is even more critical to recovery if we are already sick or stressed for this reason.

Athletic performance

Adequate sleep is shown to enhance muscular power and muscular endurance.

While poor sleep increases the risk of injury and even lowers just your motivation to train.Who feels like training when tired?

How does poor sleep impact us?

Sleep is integral to health.  Poor sleep has numerous negative health outcomes.

  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Obesity
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Bone fractures
  • Depression/Anxiety

All risk factors increase with poor sleep.

How much sleep do I need?

A few questions to consider when considering this question:

  • Do I feel rested after 7 hours of sleep or do I need more?
  • Do I experience day time drowsiness?
  • Am I relying on caffeine to get me through the day?

Everyone is different when it comes to sleep.  Some people need more, and some people don’t seem to need as much and still thrive. The recommendations for adults between 18 and 60 years old is for optimal sleep to be somewhere between 7 – 9 hours.

Is there a way to calculate your sleep?

We generally sleep in 90 minute cycles. It is when we wake up in the middle of one of those cycles that we suffer what is known as “sleep inertia” (that real struggle to wake up and get going after you’ve been forced awake by an alarm).

People who wake naturally don’t wake in the middle of a cycle and these are the people who wake up refreshed and ready to go.

To calculate your best bedtime, try this.

  • Write down your wake up time (alarm time)
  • Count back in 90 minute cycles (usually 5 or 6 x 90 minute cycles)
  • Add 15 minutes to fall asleep

That’s your optimal bedtime to wake up well having had sufficient sleep.

Can you make up for missed sleep

Can we catch up on sleep?

Always an interesting question, but the research says, NO.

I’ll explain why.

A few nights of poor sleep, even one night, will leave us feeling incredibly fragile, irritable, unable to function and impacts severely on our hunger and satiety signals.

This sleep debt causes us damage if it is allowed to build up over time.  A long-term sleep debt leads to increased oxidative stress and inflammation which eventually causes neurodegeneration.

In fact, those “sleep ins” to “catch up” are doing you more harm than good.

Our body’s internal clock is relying on us going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, in fact it predicts it. Our Circadian Rhythm is a predictor of what usually occurs during a time and prepares us for it.

When we stay up later on the weekend and then sleep in, we are literally throwing that clock right out of sync. Monday morning it is? This is because you were up later over the weekend and slept in. You’ve literally thrown your body clock out. Now you are asking your body to go back to how it was for Monday to Friday last week and it’s already started adjusting trying to do the right thing by you.

The best strategy after a night of poor sleep is to accept it and get up at the normal time, expose yourself to daylight, movement and normal times to eat. These are all stimuli to our sleep/wake cycle and will improve sleep that night. Trying to catch up is causing you bigger problems long term.

What can we do to improve sleep?

Improving your sleep will change your life for the better and this all starts a long way before bed time by what we do;

In the morning:

  • Wake up at the same time every day (or within an hour)

This keeps us in line with our natural sleep/wake cycle.

  • Get early exposure to sun/daylight (outside)

Grab your coffee and head outside for 10-15 mins with it.

This resets our circadian rhythm.

(If you live where it is dark in the morning, consider investing in a S.A.D. Lamp for early bright light exposure)

In the afternoon:

  • Cease caffeine intake – Minimum 6 hours before bed

Caffeine impacts greatly on the quality of our sleep, in particular the essential deep sleep.  

Be careful of caffeine in, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, energy drinks and pre workouts.  It all adds up.

  • Get regular exercise but not too close to bed time as it will lead to interrupted sleep.

Exercise stimulates our central nervous system and can make it hard to wind down for sleep.

  • Don’t nap during the day, especially in the afternoon.

This throws out our sleep/wake cycle.

Before Bed:

  • No alcohol before bed.

Alcohol severely impacts the quality of our sleep and food choices.

  • Don’t eat too late

Digesting food while trying to sleep impacts greatly on the quality of our sleep.

  • Switch off electronic devices at least an hour before bed.

The content we absorb from these devices stimulates our brain and makes it hard to wind down for sleep.

  • Turn down the lights to trigger our brain into sleep mode
  • Cool your bedroom – (18-20 Celsius/65- 68 Fahrenheit)

Your body cools to trigger the sleep process.

Sleep is more efficient in a cooler room.

  • Practice a relaxing routine such as, journaling, meditation, gratitude diary.

This empties our mind and puts us in a good space ready for sleep.

In Bed:

  • No screens in bed to reduce any stimuli from content or light
  • Read a book
  • A white noise machine can help light sleepers.
  • Close your eyes, relax yourself and have a sleep breathing routine you do before sleep every time.  (Try 4 seconds in and 6 seconds out – all through the nose)

If you can’t go to sleep, do not stay in bed.   Get up and leave the room and go to another room and read a boring book or listen to soft music until you feel sleepy.

Sleep Supplements?

Medicated sleep should be avoided as much as possible. We do not actually sleep while medicated but are more unconscious, missing out on that good restorative sleep we need. Nothing will replace a solid sleep routine which conditions your body and triggers the sleep process. Majority of us don’t have a sleep problem.  What we have is a social priorities problem which can be easily rectified by building good sleep hygiene. It is important to be mindful that supplements are not regulated and may or may not contain the doses stated on the labels.

There are different qualities not only amongst brands but amongst batches.

  • Melatonin: a neurohormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain.    It’s primary role is to cause and regulate sleep. It is important to note that supplementing melatonin only assists in decreasing the time to go to sleep, not length of sleep.
    Melatonin may also assist with a spike in growth hormone. (PMID: 10594526)
    Dose: Start on 0.5mg (more is not best) 30 mins before bed.
    NOTE: The efficacy of melatonin is highly questionable in the majority of “off the shelf” brands.  See your physician.

Several supplements can induce relaxation which may help you sleep, including:

  • Ashwagandha Studies on ashwagandha have used dosages of 250–600 mg/day of a root extract. Ashwagandha has supporting evidence to reduce cortisol, lower stress symptoms and improve sleep quality. (PMID: 31517876)
    Dose: 600mg per day.  1 x 300mg AM and 1 x 300mg PM
  • L-theanine: can improve relaxation and sleep.
    Dose: Take 100–200 mg before bed
  • Lavender: A powerful herb with many health benefits, lavender can induce a calming and sedentary effect to improve sleep.
    Dose: Take 80–160 mg containing 25–46% linalool
    A quality lavender spray on sleepwear or bedding can also help with sleep.
  • Magnesium – There is no clear evidence of supplementing magnesium for sleep.   If a person is deficient in magnesium then supplementing magnesium may be beneficial for relaxation which may result in better sleep.

Supplements are exactly that. They are not a magic bullet to fix a poor sleep routine. Always consult your physician when taking supplements as they may impact on or interact with any medications you may be on or even with each other.

Poor sleep leads to fatigue, poor immunity and all round poor health. We find ourselves crawling from one thing to another with absolutely no motivation to train or too sick to reap any benefit from it. Nailing our sleep is the absolute key to fat loss, muscle growth and general  health and wellbeing.

Poor sleep is also linked to poor mental health, depression and anxiety, which brings me to the old expression “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. But, do you really want to get there quicker?

“You snooze you lose” literally now translates to “If you snooze more, you achieve and perform and live a long, happy and healthy life!”.


Roger Sutherland

Shift Work Health & Wellbeing Coach

A Healthy Shift